It’s playoff time in Russia and the quarterfinals have set the toneThe quarterfinals in the Russian American Football League last Saturday saw some great football action.
St. Petersburg Griffins v. Moscow United
In the first game of the night, last year’s finalists, the St. Petersburg Griffins (winners of Division North) hosted the young Moscow United (who placed second in Division Volga). The game turned out into a very low scoring affair, as the both teams effectively negated each others’ strengths. The quick and aggressive United defense took away the advantage that the Griffins had in their fast outside running game, while on the other side of the ball, the host’s blitz-heavy package suffocated Moscow’s vertical passing that they usually relied on for most of their offensive production. That resulted in a halftime score of 8-6, with the Griffins’ second quarter safety being the only difference.
The second half saw the visitors constant pressure pay off, as they produced several turnovers while limiting the host’s offense to only four first downs. In addition, the Griffins opted to punt out of bounds to avoid risky returns by the Moscow speedsters, which led to a sacrifice of some field position as United would usually start their possession around midfield. Nevertheless, the home team defense, supported by the crowd, would hold on drive after drive, by keeping themselves fresh with a long bench, while the visitors offense would eventually wear down and ended up not producing any more points despite starting two of their drives in the final quarter in the Griffins’ half of the field.
A low scoring affair that ended 8-6 but provided a real thrill for the home crowd till the last second.
Moscow Patriots v. St. Petersburg Vikings
The second game of the day featured a clash between the other two teams from the nation’s largest cities, as 10-time champion the Moscow Patriots (winners of Division Volga) hosted the St. Petersburg Vikings, who placed second in Division North. Adding some intrigue to that game was the homecoming of former North Carolina Tar Heel and Green Bay Packer Bobby Rome, who lead the Vikings against his former Russian team in Moscow.
With both teams traditionally relying on aerial attacks, the game produced a handful of big plays with all of its four touchdowns coming through the air, three of them caught by the Patriots and the national team captain wide receiver Alexander Khokhlov. But this kind of pass-heavy game plan on both sides also resulted in a lot of defensive highlights, with the teams combining for 11 sacks and four interceptions. Nevertheless, the vastly more experienced hosts showed their strength from the onset of the game and never really allowed the visitors to threaten their lead, as they cruised to a comfortable 30-9 win.
See the games’s highlights below!
Bobby Rome’s reunion with his former Russian team also produced some other news, as after the game, Rome, the highest-profile player to ever play in this league announced his retirement and plans to stay in Russia in a coaching capacity.
Astrakhan Gladiators v. Voronezh Mighty Ducks
Another exciting game happened in the Southern city of Astrakhan, as the local Gladiators (the winners of Division South) hosted the Mighty Ducks from Voronezh, who claimed Division Center just two weeks ago in a “win and you’re in” game against the Samara Stormbringers.
With this game being the first ever playoff appearance for Voronezh, it didn’t surprise anyone that the more experienced Gladiators took an early lead and appeared to be in total control as they finished the first half up 18-0. However, the Ducks appeared to have regained their might in the locker room, as they scored 19 unanswered points in the third quarter to take a small lead into the final period of play.
At this point, the hosts were able to rally and scored eight points on a 90 yard drive to go up 26-19 with about five minutes left to go. Relying on a strong inside run game they managed to eat the clock very effectively leaving Voronezh with no choice but to go through the air on the ensuing possession. However, they were successful and scored with 1:52 left in the game – only to see their extra point attempt blocked and still trail 26-25. But when they needed it most, the Voronezh defense managed to step up and force a three-and-out for Astrakhan, leaving them with another shot at winning. Running out of time, they only managed to get to the Gladiators 27-yard line until they were left with only 3 seconds in the game and had to kick a field goal on 2nd down. Many in the home crowd closed their eyes as the visiting kicker lined up for the game-winning attempt, but that turned out to be for naught as Astrakhan managed to block the second kick in a row, returning it for a touchdown to make the final score 32-25.
Semifinals Set for August 30
The last quarterfinal game was supposed to see the Nizhny Novgorod Raiders host the Simferopol Taurus from Crimea, but the latter couldn’t make it because of the political situation and had to forfeit the game, allowing the Raiders to get a bye.
The semifinals are now set for August 30, as the St. Petersburg Griffins will host the Moscow Patriots, while the Nizhny Novgorod Raiders are going to travel to the Caspian Sea to play the Astrakhan Gladiators.